How Do You Know If A Business or Property Owner Acted Reasonably In Trying To Prevent A Stairway Slip and Fall Accident?
Posted By Alan Sackrin on May 19, 2016
Whenever someone is injured in a slip and fall at a business location, one of the first things that a victim should realize when they are evaluating whether or not to purse a claim for the recovery of their damages is that the business is well aware that accidents are part of the risk of doing business.
Property owners and their business occupants, especially those that invite customers and clients onto their property, know that slip and fall injuries are one of the most common types of accidents that occur on commercial property. Restaurant owners, office buildings, hotels, movie theaters, hospitals, grocery store managers — they are all very well aware of the risk of a visitor being hurt in a slip and fall on their property.
Research by insurance companies as well as research by industry groups prove these facts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (”CDC”), slip and fall accidents are very likely to be the kind of accident in which someone is going to get hurt whether they happen while at work or at play (shopping, dining, etc.).
According to research by Utah Valley University, a large number of slip and fall accidents result in life-altering injuries that most often involve the victim’s (1) knee, ankle, foot; (2) wrist, elbow; (3) back; (4) shoulder; (5) hip; or (6) head, resulting in sprains, bruises, abrasions, and fractures. Businesses (and their carriers) know this, too.
So, when someone is hurt in a slip and fall accident, and they face days, weeks or even months (or longer) of recovery from their bodily injuries, he or she should wonder about how much the business was aware of the danger its customers and guests faced and what, if anything, the business did to prevent the injury from occurring.
And, the victim should know that Florida’s premises liability laws allow a victim to recover compensation for his or her damages against the business if the victim can prove that the business was negligent and that negligence caused the victim’s damages.
Is the Business Liable for the Slip and Fall Accident?
One of the main questions to ask should be – did the business act unreasonably towards its customer’s safety and was its negligence the cause of the accident? If so, then the owner or occupant of the property will be legally responsible for paying the victim’s damages like pain and suffering, the medical expenses for the hospital stay or medical treatment, lost wages, and the victim’s present and future rehab needs (home care costs, etc.).
Stairway Slip and Fall Injury Claims
One of the scariest kinds of falls are when someone slips and falls or trips and falls while walking up or down a set of stairs. In fact, the risk of falling on a stairway and getting hurt are so high that many research studies have been conducted to determine the dangers involved with these accidents. From parking garages to shopping malls to apartment buildings, those stairways have to meet building and safety requirements from lighting and warning signs to the size of the step’s landing area and more.
How Do You Know If the Business is Liable for Causing Your Slip and Fall Accident on the Stairway?
In determining whether or not a business or property owner is obligated to compensate a victim for their injuries the victim will need to evaluate many factors from the accident scene. This can be a very complicated, both factually and legally. The accident victim will need to determine if the business or property owner acted reasonably in trying to protect its guests and invitees. For example, did the business or property owner take steps to eliminate or warn of known dangerous conditions on the property?
20 Factors For Evaluating Whether or Not A Business or Property Owner Acted Reasonably to Protect Its Customers, Guests and Invitees
Here are some considerations for a stairway slip and fall victim to consider, using the risk assessment research from Traveler’s Insurance online risk manual, when determining if a business or property owner acted reasonably, including:
The Stairway Itself
1. All Florida businesses are legally required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes specific guidelines dealing with stairs, stairwells, and stairways. An online copy of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities – Section 4.9 – Stairs is available for download.
Did the stairway comply with these ADA guidelines? If not, then you may have an argument that the business was not acting reasonably in protecting its customers from a fall on those stairs.
The Stair Steps
2. Consider the surface of the stairs themselves at the time of your fall. Were they slippery surfaces? Were these stair surfaces covered with any kind of slip resistant surface material? Why not?
3. How about the series of steps. Were they uniform or were there any irregular stair risers?
4. What about the footing and treads on each stair step? Were they slippery? Were there any non-slip surface treads placed on the steps to help you keep your footing, like friction strips or stair carpeting? Was it secure?
5. If there was a metal nosing on the edge of the stair tread was it securely attached? On each step? Was it bent?
6. Were the stairs hard to see? Could you see where to place your feet on the stairway? Did the business have high contrast striping on the stair step nosing or on the stairway landings to help you see where to place your foot on the stairs?
7. If the stair steps were hard to see at the time of the accident, had the business failed to paint them with contrasting colors or otherwise mark them in a way to help your visibility?
8. Where there any notices, signs, or warnings, placed there by the business owner advising customers or clients to be careful when walking up or down these stairs? If so, were they easy to see or was your view blocked?
9. What else was on the stairway walls? Were there things like posters or notices that might distract you? If so, were these things prohibited in the stairways or did the business think this was okay?
10. Stairways need to be well-lit at all times, day or night. Consider the amount of light present at the time of your fall. Was there enough light to see the stairs at the base of the stairway? What about as you went up or down the stairs? How about at the top of the staircase? At the landing?
11. Some stairs need to have lighting for each stair tread. This is common in places like movie theaters and public auditoriums. Did you fall in a dark place where there was no tread illumination?
12. Next, consider the handrails. Handrails are provided to help you walk up or down the stairs. They are legally required to be constructed and maintained in a certain way. Did the handrail stand out visually on the stairway? Were they easy to find and to use?
Stairway handrails should contrast visually from the wall to which they are attached so you can easily see them.
13. Have someone measure that stairway, and make sure things haven’t changed since the date of your accident. Was the staircase 44 inches wide or less? If so, then it is required to have a handrail. Did it?
14. Was the staircase over 44 inches wide? Then it’s supposed to have handrails on both sides of the stairs. Did the business owner install handrails?
15. Was the staircase over 88 inches wide? Then it needs to have a handrail down the center of the staircase. Did it?
16. As for the handrails themselves, were they at least 34 inches from the floor or the stair tread? That’s a minimum requirement.
17. Did the handrails go out at least 18 inches beyond the top and bottom steps so you could get a grip on the handrail before you started to climb up the stairs (or walk down the stairway)?
18. Did the handrail stay close to the wall, no more than 3.5 inches into the staircase?
19. Was there a missing or damaged section of handrail?
20. What about the grip on the handrail? Was it slippery? Was it sticky so you wanted to avoid using it? Could you grip it easily?
How Does A Business or Property Owner React to a Slip and Fall?
After a victim has fallen on stairs and has been hurt, dealing with the medical aftermath as well as the claims process may be new to a victim — but in many instances it is far from new to the business or property owner. A well prepared business or property owner, whether it’s a hotel, day spa, restaurant, gym, office complex, apartment building, grocery store, or department store, will know exactly how to react.
A diligent business or property owner will have procedures and processes in place to handle the incident. They will review their video surveillance and they will create a written report of the incident, making sure to document things like the clothes the victim was wearing and the shoes he or she was wearing at the time of the fall. Sometimes, these procedures are mandated by the main office. Sometimes, they come from a franchise manual. Sometimes, it’s from their liability insurance carrier.
To them, and their insurance companies, a stairway slip and fall accident is all about “risk management” and keeping the amount of their financial responsibility for your damages as low as possible.
If the business can avoid taking responsibility for a victim being hurt in a fall on their stairway, it will. That’s business.
Pursuing a Slip and Fall Stairway Claim Against a Business for Failing to Reasonably Protect You
Of course, reasonable businesses will use their knowledge of potential dangers to try and keep their guests and customers safe while they are dining, shopping, swimming, drinking, dancing, exercising, etc. They don’t want accidents to happen. They don’t want to lose business. That’s pretty basic stuff and it’s why some of these research studies have been conducted.
These studies have helped to shape things like the need for handrails at a certain height to lower the risk of a slip and fall accident occurring on a stairway. Most businesses act in a reasonable manner in protecting their clientele by implementing the latest safety measures. Why not, it’s good for business.
For example, most movie theaters in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties have little white lights in the theater aisles so anyone who wants to go out and get some popcorn can do so safely. And reasonable parking garage owners or operators will have well-lit stairwells so after a concert is over or a basketball game ends their guests can safely make their way back to their cars. Keeping guests safe is good for business.
But good business practices don’t control when someone is hurt in a stairway, Florida’s premises liability law does.
If a victim is hurt in a slip and fall in a stairway, then the question to be answered regarding liability will not be if the theater, garage, store, etc., was following good business practices. It will be if the business failed to act reasonably to meet its legal duty to provide a safe environment for its “business invitee”.
Determining a Business Acted Unreasonably
An accident victim should investigate and determine if their stairway accident was due to the business or property owner acting in an unreasonable manner. As shown above, that question can be answered in many ways.
A good piece of advice if you or a loved one has been injured in a slip and fall in a stairway, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
- Stairwell systems and the causes for most people being hurt in these accidents
- Hurt from falling down stairs?
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.